I was lucky enough to get a place on a natural dyestuffs workshop at midsummer with Michel Garcia at Big Hat textile centre in Newburgh, Fife Scotland, run by Alison Mountain and Jeanette Sendler.

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Newburgh is a little town on the Tay estuary, not far from St Andrews and Perth in the other direction, and the countryside around is very beautiful, especially with the light reflected from the wide arm of the sea that comes up past it.

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and the light changes with the tide and the weather

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meadowsweet grows in all the ditches and hedges round about, which I was soon to discover is a useful dyeplant, giving yellows,

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and that violet-blue cranesbill is everywhere too, as it is in Cumbria and Yorkshire.

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Philippe Model, my master hat-maker, and interiors designer friend from Paris, and I stayed in the the Gallery Flat, which is the other half of the handsome building that the textile centre occupies,

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giving all hours access to the studio and the cafe space.

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Michel Garcia, Plant Alchemist (biochemist actually), taught a concentrated five day course,

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covering dyeing wool,

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silk, cotton and linen, with plant co-mordants, aluminium accumulating plants, silk screen printing,

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and on day four, three different kinds of indigo vats

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one with the exhaust dyebath from dyeing wool with madder

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one the swedish vat, with ferrous sulphate

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and a big one, with henna as the reducing agent

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and lime as the alkali. it was wonderful and we all dabbled our hands in it, together with India Flint who joined us for the last two days, as we flocked to dip shibori tied fabrics and all sorts of personal projects, rather more than we were perhaps supposed to … it was a generous vat, producing a second big bucket full just from the rinsings.

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We had a trip to the Hat Shop in Perth (both Alison and Jeanette sell their hats there and run more courses there too)

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Philippe and I, and fellow dye student Beate from NY came back with felt hats made by Alison; they are irresistible, soft and pliable but tough wool felt with depth of colour and lovely shapes.

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now I have ambitious ideas about dyeing with madder and indigo, and a box full of dyestuffs just arrived from Michel in the South of France, smelling very exotic; I am waiting for the fair trade indigo from Maiwa in Vancouver to arrive, and planning a trip to Foulsham for natural builders lime. it was a very special week; we were fed by Michel with almost more brain food than we could take in, and by Alison with plenty of delicious meals to sustain us, and by Jill with baskets of her gourmet handmade chocolate . I met a lot of very special people and learnt an amazing amount; thank you so much to Alison and Jeanette and Michel.

you can see more photos from the course at Hat in the Cat’s facebook page if you have a facebook account

here

here

here

and here